Candlemas – The Presentation
Readings – Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
The author St. Luke has jam packed this mornings Gospel reading with meaning.
First is the Jewish rite of purification of women following childbirth. At forty days following the birth of a boy, and eighty days after the birth of a girl, the mother was to present herself at the temple in Jerusalem (Leviticus 12). Until that time she was able to go about in her household, but was restricted in community outings and religious gatherings. Paternalistic, and sexist, yes, but there was also a concern for the gradually recovering mother following childbirth.
Second, all the first born boys, and first born cattle, too, were traditionally considered sacred to God (Exodus 13:2, Numbers 18:16) in recognition of God’s gracious life-giving power. A temple offering was needed “to buy back” the son, or the bull, from God. The normal offering was a lamb and a dove. For the poorer the offering was two doves. Mary and Joseph offered two doves.
Mary and Joseph following tradition, included only in the Gospel according to St. Luke, afforded the encounter with Simeon and Anna in the temple. Simeon, a man of prayer, guided by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is a prominent feature of St. Luke’s writing, took the infant Jesus in his arms and praised God. Imagine, Mary and Joseph allowing this total stranger to hold their 40 day old son! For Simeon his life was now complete.
My eyes have seen your [God’s] salvation… prepared for all people… a light to the Gentiles and … glory to your people Israel.
The long-awaited Messiah had arrived. Simeon joined the early recognizers – the angels, the archangels, the shepherds, the wisemen. In this infant Simeon saw the light and the glory of God that was given for all people. This infant would turn the world upside down; he would be the downfall of many and the rising of others. And all this would not be without cost as “a sword” of grief would “pierce [the] soul of his parents.
No sooner had Simeon spoken then the prophet Anna appeared. Widowed at an early age, now 84, she never doubted her God, giving thanks daily for God’s blessings in the temple. She, too, saw this infant in arms the future of Israel.
Today we joyfully join with Simeon and with Anna, and we rejoice in the light, the light come into the world in Jesus. This is the light that no darkness can overcome, so eloquently penned by St. John in the fourth Gospel. For us, whether we are over or under 84, we are encouraged to focus on the light, indeed, to seek out the light wherever it may be found.
There continues to be much darkness about, yet we like Simeon and Anna, endure the darkness and seek the light. With the strength of the Holy Spirit, we find the light, we carry the light for others to gather round, and we put that light on a lampstand so that all may be illumed. We bear the light in our own day knowing here too:
[it] is destined for the falling and the rising of many… [and] will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.
And as predicted by Simeon, to find, to carry the light and to put it on a lamp stand will have a cost. As Simeon shared with Mary and Joseph:
a sword will pierce your own soul.
Standing in the light there is pain in seeing the plight of the Ukrainian people.
Standing in the light there is pain in the plight of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols.
Standing in the light there is pain in seeing the long lines for Meals for Seals and for Martha’s Table.
Standing in the light there is pain in seeing glaciers disappear and islands sink back into the sea.
Standing in the light there is pain seeing the forests destroyed and species of this planet go extinct.
Still, that sword that pierces our soul does not inhibit or delay or deter us on mission.
As we behold our candles burning brightly, we witness to the glorious light that the darkness cannot overcome – not today, and not tomorrow.
Here, today, we stand with Simeon and with Anna.